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HIV Testing And Counseling

When The Results Come In

Sunday, April 21, 2013 - 15:38

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

HIV tests can identify HIV antibodies in the blood as early as two weeks after infection, but the body may take up to six months to make a measurable amount of antibodies. The average time is 25 days. When HIV antibodies are present in your bloodstream, a person is HIV positive.

What If The Test Is Positive?

What If The Test is Negative?

What If The Test Is Positive?

HIV-antibody test results are extremely accurate when proper procedures are followed. However, a very small number of people may test positive even though they are not infected. These are called false-positive results. Sometimes a false-positive result can occur, which is why additional tests are done.

If an ELISA test yields two or more positive results, a different test such as the Western blot is used to confirm these results as positive for HIV antibodies. The Western blot is more specific and takes longer to perform than the ELISA. Together, the two tests are more than 99.9 percent accurate.

The CDC recommends that laboratories do not report positive results to a patient until the screening test - either EIA or ELISA - has been repeatedly reactive on two or more tests AND the supplemental test (usually the Western blot test) has been used to confirm this result. The amount of HIV present in the blood is called the viral load.

AIDS may take up to 10 or more years to develop from the time the person was first infected with HIV. When people find out early that they are HIV positive, they can delay development of AIDS by taking the new drug treatments that are now available. Without these medications, they may develop serious illnesses more quickly.

  • Some medicines prevent the type of pneumonia that is a common problem for people who have HIV or AIDS.
  • Doctors can track when a person's immune system begins to weaken. By evaluating the immune system regularly and giving vaccinations against bacterial pneumonia and influenza, doctors can help an HIV infected person avoid illnesses related to HIV infection and treat them more effectively when they occur.
  • For pregnant women, medical treatment with a drug known as AZT may reduce the chances of a baby being infected with HIV.

Need To Know:

People who test positive for HIV should follow these steps to help themselves and minimize the impact on others:

  • See a doctor, especially one who has experience treating people with HIV infection
  • Follow all of the doctor's recommendations and orders
  • Tell any sex partners that you tested positive for HIV
  • Consider joining a support group for people with HIV infection
  • Ask the doctor if a flu vaccine or other vaccines are recommended
  • Take steps to protect the health of others from the infection
  • Do not share needles or syringes
  • Don't smoke or take illegal drugs
  • Get enough sleep and exercise
  • Do not donate blood or organs
  • Tell any doctor or dentist who treats you that you are infected
  • Eat the healthiest diet you can

What If The Test Is Negative?

A negative result means that no HIV antibodies were found in the blood. This condition is called seronegative and usually means the person is not infected. Rarely, a person who has undergone HIV testing can have a false-negative result, where the person tested negative even though HIV is present. To reduce the chances of a false-negative result, several tests are used.

Sometimes, someone who has tested negative can still be infected with HIV. It takes time for the body to develop HIV antibodies after infection. Almost all people develop HIV antibodies within three months, but it can take up to six months after infection for some persons.

Therefore, if a person has engaged in behavior that can transmit the virus six months prior to the test, he or she may be infected but still test negative because the body may not yet have produced antibodies. To be sure, people should be retested at least six months after they last engaged in behavior that could transmit HIV.

How To Information:

Testing negative does not mean the person cannot get HIV in the future. No one is immune to HIV, so everyone should be sure to take steps to protect themselves from becoming infected in the future. Being aware of behaviors that increase the risk of infection and taking preventive measures can substantially reduce a person's likelihood of becoming infected with HIV.

Steps to take to protect yourself from HIV include:

  • Practice safe sex. Practice safe sex with any partner, male or female, who is HIV-positive or whose sexual history is unknown. This includes creating a barrier between a person's mucous membranes (or any cuts or breaks in the skin) and his or her partner's blood, semen, or vaginal secretions. Such barriers include condoms, with or without spermicidedental dams (squares of latex originally used for dental work, now commonly recommended for safe oral sex); and latex gloves
  • Don't share needles or syringes. People who use injection drugs risk exposure to HIV if they share needles and syringes with others. HIV in the blood left in a needle can be transmitted directly into the bloodstream of the next person using the injecting equipment. There are treatment centers available to help users stop using drugs.
  • Minimize HIV exposure from medical procedures. HIV has been transmitted through transfusions of contaminated blood and blood components. Since 1985, however, blood banks have added safeguards to their procedures to ensure that donated blood does not present an HIV risk. Today, the risk of acquiring HIV infection from blood transfusions is extremely small. People who are scheduling elective surgery can reduce the risk even further by banking some of their own blood before the surgery.



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